10 fantastic travel hacks for TEFL teachers

In the right circumstances, and with exciting places to go, travelling is one of the most exciting things you can do. The idea of leaving it all behind and setting off on a journey to somewhere new is one that keeps us all going through long days at work, winter nights and maybe even months of saving up those pennies.

Jet-setting across the globe is an enticing prospect. Especially if you’re a TEFL teacher, awaiting a new start with a job offer in hand. Or, maybe you’re going to try your luck in a new country, armed with a TEFL qualification and all the enthusiasm it’s possible to muster. Maybe you’re a digital nomad, crossing from country to country while working as a teacher online. The possibilities are numerous.

Still, there are ways of actually making all that travel easier – or certainly, there are pitfalls to avoid. So, using the extent of our knowledge and expertise, we’ve come up with 10 fantastic travel “hacks” for you TEFL teachers out there.

Legal disclaimer: Obviously, we’ve not included anything in here that will get you in any trouble. Follow the rules of each airport and country you travel to – these are just guides to making the experience that little bit easier!

1. Make digital copies of all of your important documents

If you only remember one piece of advice from this article, it’d be a shame, but we’d pick this one. 

Losing your travel documents is every traveller’s worst nightmare. Travel documents can include your passport, your visa, boarding passes, even an offer of employment from a school or institution overseas.

Simply put: you don’t want to do it. It’s 2023: if you can read these words, then you are capable of using technology to back up your documents and make copies. Using a scanner, or even taking pictures, is a way of ensuring you aren’t stuck without important documentation. 

Copies should be either sent to yourself, or someone you trust who is easily contactable in an emergency. Or, use cloud storage: it’s affordable, it’s reliable and it’s easy to find in a pinch. 

Yes, it’s boring, and it’s hardly in the spirit of adventure, but remember to make copies. You’ll thank us.

2. 100ml rule 

Depending on where you are in the world, you’ll know the rules about liquids on planes. In the UK, the 100ml rule for liquids on flights came into effect in 2006. “No container can be above 100ml, and they must be carried within a resealable clear plastic bag with a maximum volume of one litre.

But you might have ointments, medicines, toiletries, drinks – so what to do? Well, here’s our hack – more airports are offering a click-and-collect service, so you can pick up an order once you’re through airport security. Bear this in mind, lest you have to depart with expensive perfume, an important medication, or something else!

The rules are being relaxed, with better scanning technology now available. That said, it’s important to check the rules for liquids and see if there’s a way of negotiating them should you need to.

A woman at a train station looking at a departures board

3. Travel adaptors: don’t get caught short

“Oh sorry, I didn’t realise you wanted me to start on Monday. There was a whole class waiting for me? Sorry, my phone wasn’t charged.”

There is no way in the world that a school is going to find a lack of battery an acceptable excuse. If you’re a qualified TEFL teacher, you’ve already passed an interview and have the requisite enthusiasm to travel and teach, you need the right adapters.

Adaptors, let’s be clear, are super available online. A quick Google search will show you universal adaptors, and specific country adaptors – you get the point. A lack of access to a power point in order to charge your phone or laptop shouldn’t be a problem for you these days. Prepare before you head anywhere, because you’ll need to use electricity. Obviously.

4. Portable wi-fi

If you’re a digital nomad, you’ll need to forgive us momentarily, because you’ll know about this. For the rest of you: similar to point 3, your technology has to be on point. The problem: wi-fi isn’t reliable/available. The hack: portable wi-fi.

Mobile wifi is readily available through your phone carrier, or through the likes of Amazon. While it used to be expensive, mobile wi-fi plans have become increasingly affordable, but do be sure to note any roaming charges or location-based conditions. 

Simply put, bad internet connection won’t wash as an excuse with clients.

5. Download offline maps

Our reliance on our phones is both a blessing and a curse; technology unquestionably makes things a lot easier, but at the same time, we’ve become a bit useless without it. Case and point: maps.

Today’s location and map apps, handily, will let you take some maps offline. This is absolutely crucial if you’ve ignored step 4, and don’t have portable wi-fi. We don’t need to tell you why maps are important for the international TEFL teacher, but at the very least, take lots of screenshots on your phone for maps you need to use later, and save them in places you can access offline.

Obviously, physical maps are an option – there’s nothing wrong with printing out directions of where your accommodation or school is before you head out. You aren’t going to be guaranteed stable internet connection, and maps are such an obvious thing you’ll need at some juncture!

6. Look for cheap, last-minute flights

Finding cheap flights online can be extremely time-consuming, but it doesn’t need to be. 

If you’ve heard of Skyscanner, you’ll know what we mean. Sometimes, the best-priced flights are the ones that become available very late on. If you’re travelling on a budget – and let’s face it, who isn’t – setting up alerts for your particular destination and being flexible are the best ways to save.

7. Mitigate jet lag

“I don’t get jet lag” is one of the most prevalent lies we’re told, along with “I don’t get hangovers” and “This hospital food is delicious!”. People insist on saying these things. Chances are, though, you’re going to feel some jet lag if you’re travelling between time zones or even continents.

Is it possible to avoid jet lag entirely? Maybe if your body clock is tuned absolutely perfectly. For the rest of us, there are some ways to mitigate the effects. Light therapy glasses can be costly, but if you travel a lot, can save you potential days of missed work.

Timing your sleep is often the best plan, though. Try to follow the schedule of your destination – if it’s nighttime there, try to sleep on the flight for the same length of time as you usually would. Or, try sleeping tablets or treatments that are available at your local pharmacy; though we’d recommend speaking to your GP or pharmacist first.

A grounded plane in the foreground with one in flight in the distance behind

8. Don’t change currency at the airport

If you love losing money, skip ahead to point 9. If not, here’s a hack: don’t change currency at the airport. You just don’t need to.

For one thing: you can end up getting charged a lot for the luxury of converting your own money. There are lots of great travel debit cards you can use instead, with the likes of Monzo and Revolut providing some of the most popular choices. Typically, you won’t be charged extra for using your card abroad, regardless of where you are. 

Also, and we hate to bring this up, but if you lose cash, you can’t get it back easily, if at all. With a bank account specifically for travel, you can easily re-order a new one through a respective app or website, or pay with your phone. In terms of safety, reliability and saving your money, cash is no longer king.

9. First-aid kit

Yes, we hear you: I’m a qualified TEFL teacher, I’m finding English teaching work around the globe, and I don’t want to read about cuts and bruises!

The thing is though, it’s much better to have something and not need it than be without it. In terms of all things medical, it’s important to have a first-aid and medication kit for travelling, because you just never know.

It’s much cheaper getting a first-aid kit before travelling than having to buy supplies in an airport, or in a pharmacy where you might not understand the labels. In fact, language barriers can make buying medical supplies of any kind quite tricky – so prepare in advance. 

If you take medication, be sure to have plenty to take with you, and look up pharmacies and health centres for your destination. Adjusting to a new country and way of life can be tricky, as much as it is exciting, so avoiding any medical stress is massively important.

10. Prevent travel from being boring

When you’re in transit, do you stare out the window the whole time excitedly? Congratulations, you might be a golden retriever. For the rest of us, let’s admit it: the actual act of travelling can be boring.

Adventure? Amazing. Exploring new cultures? There’s nothing like it. Teaching English? As careers go, there are few as rewarding or constantly challenging. Sitting around in airports, and actually being on flights? Sorry, but it can be boring. 

Our hack? Use this time wisely. If you’re moving somewhere to teach, try to learn as much about the curriculum as you can. Learn some of the local language through an app, listen to a TEFL podcast, maybe even take an advanced TEFL course! Trust us, you have the time!

Don’t be bored. There is plenty you could do to make your teaching experience so much easier once you land. 

What are you waiting for?

So there you have it – 10 outrageously clever hacks and tips for the travelling TEFL teacher. Travelling, in and of itself, has never been easier; from booking flights to learning languages, modern travel has made our world so much more connected and smaller – in the best way!

There are still plenty of pitfalls though, but there are also a million ways to avoid the travelling traps that meet us on our way around the planet. Did we miss anything? Let us know at euan@tefl.org or leave a comment, and we’ll maybe even make a part 2!

Do you want to travel the world and teach English as a foreign language? Try out a 120-hour Premier Online course to start the rest of your life!

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